Rethink hospital eye care to protect patients’ eyesight, urge experts

Author: Caroline White

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Eye experts have called for a radical rethink of hospital eye care to safeguard patients’ eyesight amid mounting pressure on ophthalmology departments in England.

In 2018-19, ophthalmology was the largest outpatient specialty in England, with over 7.9 million appointments.

The Association of Optometrists (AOP), The College of Optometrists, and The Royal College of Ophthalmologists have joined forces to issue a position statement outlining the steps needed to ease the pressures on hospital services.

New models of eyecare, supported by adequate funding, are urgently needed to protect patients’ eyesight, they say.

The statement comes in the wake of recent findings from the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) and the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) Ophthalmology report, which highlighted serious inadequacies in eye healthcare and an urgent need for change.

As many as 22 patients a month in the UK develop severe or permanent sight loss because they don’t get follow-up appointments and hospital treatment quickly enough.

And with the number of over 65s projected to rise by over 40% in the next two decades, more and more people will need treatment for serious eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

It’s estimated that glaucoma cases will increase by 44% over the next 20 years, and AMD cases by 60%.

AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, said: “Under the current system, things are simply not working. We’re regularly hearing stories of patients that are suffering as they live with unnecessary sight loss.

“National recommendations were made on the referrals process for conditions like glaucoma over a decade ago and yet people continue to experience the same systemic failings. We believe it’s time to see a change.

“Making full use of the skills of other professionals, such as optometrists, could release time for ophthalmologists to manage cases where the patient has more complex needs.”

Melanie Hingorani, chair of professional standards at The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and UK Ophthalmology Alliance said: “There is an enormous amount optometrists and ophthalmologists can do to reduce care delays for patients with eye conditions if we work together.

“However, we need NHS England and NHS Improvement to enable greater collaboration by urgently addressing the many barriers in the current system limiting this.”

The College of Optometrists’ director of policy and strategy, Dr Sarah Cant, added: “This joint statement is an acknowledgement of the root and branch reform that needs to happen across England to alleviate the pressure that hospital eye health services and patients are experiencing. 

Optometrists’ skills need to be used in enhanced services schemes, so that patients can be seen quickly and their treatments managed locally, she said.  “These need to be available across England if we are to tackle the systemic problems now being faced.”

The joint statement includes guidance for commissioners, hospital eye departments, individual ophthalmologists and optometrists to better integrate services and pool existing resources.


Editorial team, Wilmington Healthcare

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